Vanessa Matthews Shares her Journey: from Totleigh Barton to Published Author
Before I went to an Arvon course I thought the journey to publication looked something like this:
Step 1. Write a good book.
Step 2. Find an agent to sell your good book to a good publisher.
Step 3. Sit back and enjoy watching your good book rise to the top of the best-seller lists.
As it turns out becoming an author isn’t just a matter of words. It’s also a numbers game. 21 is the number of months it took me to get from first word to published novel. 10 beta readers helped to critique my work resulting in 20 or so redrafts of my full manuscript. Of the 30 submissions I made to agents and publishers, eight expressed initial interest. The remaining 22 responded with flat out rejection (ouch). The average response time was 6 months. That’s a lot of numbers.
However, the most important one I hold onto is 29. Why? Because it marks the first day of my Arvon course. Wind back to 2013 and my life as a busy mum of four and wife to a hardworking husband had left me with little time to write. I needed space to focus and so I booked myself on to a fiction writing course with Arvon.
My week at Arvon helped me take those first steps and the continued support available saw me through the confidence rollercoaster that many writers fall foul of.
On the 29th April, I arrived at Totleigh Barton clutching a few thousand words of a novel-in-progress that I quickly realised I no longer wanted to progress. By the last day of the course the pages of my notebook were blank, my novel had stalled and I was panicking. So, I decided to do what I had done many times in my professional life when I was all out of ideas and held a brainstorm. I asked my new Arvon friends to gather round, told them my interests and motivations, talked of books I loved and then gave it over to the floor. An hour later and this wonderfully supportive micro-community of writers had helped me fill my notebook with inspiration.
The writing didn’t flow immediately, but the seeds were sown and after a few months spent researching I finally made a start on the story that became The Doctor’s Daughter, a dark psychological thriller set in 1920s Vienna. My week at Arvon helped me take those first steps and the continued support available saw me through the confidence rollercoaster that many writers fall foul of. Because my place on the course was grant funded I became eligible to apply for a ‘free read’ with The Literary Consultancy. After a competitive submission process, my manuscript was selected for professional assessment. I was spurred on by the comprehensive report and encouraging feedback I received and kept going until I finished the book.
I started my journey with low confidence, little time, limited funds and a lack of formal writing education. But I knew I wanted to write.
I started my journey with low confidence, little time, limited funds and a lack of formal writing education. But I knew I wanted to write. Since Arvon I have agonised over rejection, cried with joy at positive feedback, leant on friends, asked for advice, bitten my fingernails to stubs and then repeated the process many times over as I have drafted and redrafted, researched and read, polished and submitted. The Doctor’s Daughter was published with CompletelyNovel in June 2015 and so the numbers game continues. I now have 20 fantastic reader reviews and counting. I have been featured on nine blogs, my book has been read by approximately 30 book bloggers in four countries resulting in more reviews soon. The Doctor’s Daughter is stocked in three Waterstones stores and is available to loan from more than 110 libraries across the South West. It’s been hard work but I am already writing my second novel and have notes for a third, and Arvon was the springboard for it all.
Vanessa on Twitter: @VanessaMatthews
Vanessa on Facebook: facebook.com/vanessamatthewswriter
Vanessa Instagram: @vanessamatthewswriter